Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

Gareth is a Business Development Manager by day, music critic by night. Born in Aotearoa now living on Wadjuk Land, he’s a political junkie with a passion for fairness and a dislike of extremes.
Gareth Williams

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Gareth Williams

I WAS A Democrats turned Greens voter in the Senate, and had voted independent in Curtin at the last two elections. I’ve never belonged to a political party and before I volunteered for Kate Chaney I’d never been part of a campaign. As it turned out most of the other volunteers I met over the last few months hadn’t either. But a need for change and a despair at the major parties had fired me and them up, to move out of our comfort zones, to stop yelling at the politicians on the TV and to start engaging with other voters.

The first time I met Kate Chaney she literally gave me the shirt off her back. It was back in February at the Wembley Hotel, a popular pub in Perth’s western suburbs, at a shindig called ‘Politics in the Pub’ and a chance to meet the new independent candidate for the blue-ribbon seat of Curtin.

There we all were, a bunch of strangers (soon to become friends) sipping beer and wine in the alfresco area, most already sporting the aqua blue t-shirts emblazoned with “Kate Chaney – Curtin’s Independent” splashed across the front.

I was sans-Chaney t-shirt and Kate approached with her big smile and a warm, friendly hello. After a few minutes of chit-chat Kate asked if I was going to volunteer. I’d already decided before I got to the pub, “Yes!” I said, and signed up on my phone. Kate had a t-shirt draped over her shoulders; “Well then you’ll need a shirt” and handed it over.

Kate had launched her campaign a couple of weeks earlier – 200 people turned out to hear what Kate had to say. Volunteers lined up to sign up. The energy at that gathering was one of excitement, hope and genuine joy at the idea of upending the staid, stifling inaction that had plagued the Curtin electorate for years. The fact was the Liberal Party had become entrenched and lazy, taking the electorate for granted.

#CurtinVotes campaign launch (Photos: Twitter)

I volunteered thinking I’d do the odd letterbox drop, put a sign up in my front yard and vote for Kate. Job done! But I ended up going all in, using annual leave from my day job.

The energy was infectious

Two hundred volunteers became 400, then 600, until the Chaney campaign had amassed almost 900 people trying to pull off the extraordinary. I answered the call for people to help in the campaign office during the busy times between midday and 3pm. I soon found out the office was a hub of frantic activity all day, every day.

I was put to work identifying the most visible roads and streets in Curtin where Kate Chaney yard signs could be erected. The office was buzzing, everyone had something to do, and for most of Kate’s core team, many tasks and responsibilities.

It’s a terrible cliché but the energy in the room was infectious. I’d found my team! Voting in Curtin if you’re not a dyed in the wool Liberal had been an exercise in futility. Sure you can throw a bone to the Senate cross-bench but the Lower House was a foregone conclusion.

In my mind a nearly 14 percent margin was too much to overcome. I thought if we could take it to the Liberal Party, give them a scare, show them we won’t be taken for granted, that’ll be job done. But I came to believe we could win. Some of that belief came from other volunteers but a lot came from Kate – she didn’t sign up to lose.

With a growing sense of confidence I joined a bunch of other volunteers handing out flyers at Trigg Beach. I’m pretty confident talking to people, but this was something else. Politics can be nasty business, and waving a non Liberal flyer in some of Perth’s most affluent suburbs can be asking for trouble. I started off awkwardly, mangling the message. I was ignored a lot but also engaged with and that’s when the fun really started.

What surprised me the most was the number of people in Curtin who weren’t engaged enough to know who the current sitting member was. So our message was this:

When the election was called Curtin had a real alternative – a candidate standing on a platform of real action on climate change, fighting against corruption and for inclusive communities.

I went home with a sense of achievement, feeling positive.

Feeling like I should get involved was soon replaced by being proud to be involved. Handing out flyers and helping in the office became shooting and editing FAQ videos. What Kate’s campaign did very well was identify volunteer’s strengths and use them. I jumped at any chance to be creative and use my skill. I drank the Kool Aid!

Gareth Williams – #CurtinVotes 2022

When people were needed volunteers showed up

It didn’t matter for what. A call would go out for anything from corflute repair to transcribing a YouTube video or standing in the water at Cottesloe Beach shooting an advertisement. We called ourselves ‘The Chaney Flashmob’.

At 6pm on election night we were getting ready to let our hair down and have a few drinks while the votes were counted. Most of us had spent hours and days at pre-polling and polling booths, and I thought the job was done. But 30 more scrutineers were needed; as I donned my aqua Hawaiian shirt for the party more than 30 people answered the call and were on their way.

Barristers, surgeons, school teachers and labourers descended on an unsuspecting Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) counting room. One of the only five Liberal scrutineers asked,

“Who are you all and where did you come from?”

Scrutineering became critical in the days following the election. I got a crash course from Kate’s husband Bill at 8pm one night and 12 hours later I was in the AEC counting room. Scrutineering ballot papers is absolute next level stress, anxiety and elation – sometimes all at once. Hours at a time standing, watching an AEC worker count and validate votes, challenging dodgy ones.

The concentration needed is like nothing else. The AEC counting room is a vast area full of people and movement, but when I was scrutineering a booth I felt like the only person in the room. At the end of each day I was physically and mentally drained. It was a rollercoaster. When we won a booth and extended our lead everyone lifted, when we lost a postal box it was crushing.

On the second day I was there Kate brought everyone lunch. She wasn’t allowed in the building so she just hung out the front, sitting and chatting with volunteers. No airs or graces, just there to keep everyone’s energy up. “Positive, positive, positive” was the rallying cry I’d heard so many times in the last few months.

That same day we were rewarded for our efforts. Even though everyone, including Anthony Green, had called Curtin for Kate, the Liberals were yet to concede. Sensing the end was nigh the blue crew sent in former WA state opposition leader Zak Kirkup to oversee proceedings. Postal votes had swung back in our favour, so by mid-afternoon Zak had seen enough and led his troops out of the building. Ten minutes later Celia Hammond threw in the towel.

In true Team Chaney fashion we barely had time to cheer – Kate called a press conference in 40 minutes. We raced out of the AEC building, donned our aqua t-shirts and joined her in a leafy western suburbs park, then after the press conference to a volunteer’s home for a house party. Sparkling wine and beer appeared and the first of many, many toasts were made.

Trying to put into words what it felt like is difficult. Sporting analogies fall too short, there’s not a Grand Final on the planet that’ll come close.

That’s not how we do it

I didn’t think Australia could survive another three years of a LNP government. I thought that Australia had been dragged backwards by cruelty, greed and ideology. For me it felt like the soul of Australia was on the line, so with stakes that high winning meant everything.

What I’m feeling right now is a sense of pride that I was part of something truly good. I feel like we helped change the political landscape in this country. Kate Chaney is a rare individual; I admire her energy, positivity and leadership. During the campaign if it looked like someone was straying from the path Kate would quickly pull them back, with a “That’s not how we do it”.

I copped this first hand after shit-posting on Celia Hammond’s Facebook page. At the time I thought it was a fairly innocuous but ultimately stupid post. But it certainly wasn’t true to the Chaney campaign values and I deserved to be called out for it. Social media can be a sewer, but that’s no excuse to swim with the rats.

Faced with a barrage of negativity Kate stayed positive. It would have been so easy to fight fire with fire, but we stuck by Michelle Obama’s mantra of “when they go low, we go high”. That’s something I will practice for the rest of my days.

I can’t wait to do it again in three years’ time. Living in the aqua bubble for the past few months meant my election campaign experience was overwhelmingly positive and winning was the jewel in the crown. I helped make a difference and made a lot of friends along the way.

I very much doubt I will, but if in the coming months I get a text with “Gareth, that’s not how we do it” I’ll know that Kate is still leading.

No Fibs coverage of Curtin